Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
21 April, 2013
WFF '13: Room 237
Being a big Stanley Kubrick fan, I was eager to catch Room 237. As a bonus, director Rodney Ascher was in attendance.
The movie's title refers to one of the rooms in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining which “shines” particularly brightly. It is where Jack and his son Danny both have eldritch paranormal experiences. Room 237 looks at the theories of five fans of the film who find within it supposed “hidden” subtexts and meanings beneath the façade of a story of an author going mad. Jay Weidner sees The Shining as proof that Kubrick shot the footage of the moon landing which given to the public; Bill Blakemore insists that the film's subtext is about the Native American genocide; Geoffrey Cocks agrees that there is a hidden meaning about genocide here but that it's about the Holocaust; and Juli Kearns and John Fell Ryan espouse numerology, subliminal messages, and a lack of veracity in the sets.
For 100+ minutes these people are allowed to expound upon their oddball theories. Weidner sees proof in Apollo 11 sweaters worn by Danny whereas Blakemore describes seeing #10 cans of Calumet baking powder on the shelves of the kitchen's dry goods storeroom and having a revelation about Kubrick's “true” thematic intentions. Fell Ryan sees an inbox taking on phallic meaning. A German typewriter indicates the Holocaust. And on and on and on. Kearns points out inconsistencies in how Kubrick presents the layout of the Overlook – the relative positions of hallways and rooms to one another change in the course of the film. OK, fine. Insignificant but fine. But from these observations she tacks a course into La La Land when she sees a minotaur in a poster of a downhill skier.
Did I mention that this inanity goes on for over 100 minutes? None of these people seem capable of incorporating things like coincidence or the human tendency to see patterns where there are none into their worldview. The exigencies of a film shoot seem to elude them as does the simple notion of human error. Why are cans of baking powder significant whereas cans of ketchup are not? Is that really a minotaur or does a poster at a hotel nestled in snowy mountains which says “SKI” on it actually show someone skiing? Was Stanley Kubrick superhuman or was he fallible like the rest of us and prone to the odd continuity error here and there like basically every other director on the whole planet ever since motion picture film was invented?
That people who hold crazy beliefs is neither new nor extraordinary - witness the white European version of Jesus appearing on toast – but can be enlightening. And so the blame for Room 237 being a bad movie belongs to Ascher and company.
He and his fellow moviemakers decided that we should never see our theorists. They exist solely as disembodied voices who talk over footage from The Shining and are identified by their names appearing on the screen. We learn very little about them as their monologues consist mainly about their ideas and how they came to them. With no voice of reason to contradict these people, they are essentially arguing amongst themselves. The patients are in control of the asylum and hearing one ludicrous exegesis after another is tedious if not painful.
Another point against the movie is that, for parts where footage from The Shining is not appropriate, Ascher and Co. fill them in with footage from other movies or TV shows. It's a nice nod to these media but, unfortunately, all these shots do is literally illustrate the comments of subjects. There's nothing wrong with putting in a clip from Barry Lyndon when one speaker is discussing it but are more akin to the scene where we are hearing from Blakemore and we see one of those anti-littering commercials from the 1970s with a tear trailing down the Indian man's face. I guess one can say using scenes from other movies is some kind of commentary on the power of the movies but here it feels more like Ascher had nothing to say and needed to fill screentime.
I guess that's the main problem with Room 237 - Ascher didn't really have much to say. What does the fact that people hold such crazy ideas have to say about human psychology? Not interested. That finding “clues” in The Shining and having anyone but the friends of Blackmore, etc. know about these crackpot ideas are largely a function of DVD players and the Internet could be a jumping off point for looking at the role of technology in our world but, again, Ascher isn't interested. What about the relationship between filmmakers & their films and fandom? Ascher need not give any definitive answers but all he did here was create a movie that is the webpages of these people writ large when one can do that on the Internet. Room 237 is more freak show than documentary.